Inexspensive Long-lasting Gravestones

By Charles T. Jackson

After a nice,  relaxing couple of months, I got ready for the start of our community’s theatre season with a Fall High School production of “A Christmas Carol”. I pitched re-using the painted back wall for the Scrooge’s bedroom scenes. With the school year just getting started, and all the craziness involved, she said that sounds great. IMG_1324
For this scene I built a “four poster” bed out of 2″ x 3″ lumber in anticipation of it being mostly covered in fabric, but the fabric covering fell a bit short on covering the squareness of the construction. It wouldn’t matter due to the fact that all of the bedroom scenes were done in lighting conditions that were low enough that details like that would go unnoticed.  All of the furniture, other than the bed, transferred right from the set of “Little Princess”. Not to bad for furniture removed right from the curb on trash night in many cases!!
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I went back to the foam core for the headstones in the cemetery scene with the Ghost of Christmas Future. I wanted to get a lot of impact out of the scene when the ghost directed Scrooges attention to the stone, So I cut out the lettering and we back lit it.
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I think it turned out great, and it looked awesome both in the garage and on the stage.
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I had a lot of fun with the rest of the headstones. I made them out of the thickest foam core available at the Home Depot, and the bases ore made from scrap 2″ x 4″ and scrap 1″ x 3″. They are very stable on the simple bases and are also light weight, easy to set, but at the same time hard to knock over. The Office scenes consisted of two sided flats on rolling dollies that on one side were stark wood plank walls for the office, and on the other side a simple yellow for the Christmas party scene.
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All of these flats had been made for an earlier play, and as I have have saved and stored everything I have ever made, my wife and I were able to donate these set pieces and save the school a boatload of budget money. In my next posts I enter a stage of my career that is sadly short on photographs. This is the time where my wife and I got “smart phones” that take awesome pictures that I could post right to Facebook. I unfortunately got out of the habit of getting my camera out and taking pictures as I had so often done. It’s an example of where our access to “advanced technology” has actually damaged our ability to progress as effectively as we once had. Thanks for stopping by!!

Cast of a Thousand!!

By Charles T. Jackson

In the Summer of 2011, our Youth Theatre directors chose to do “Little Princess”. The theatre program was an extremely popular summer distraction for youths of two communities. As a result, the directors found themselves with 75+ participants. They challenged me in this show to make a set, that took up as little space as possible on the stage so they could easily fit all of these kids on stage. Always up for a challenge, I designed a set that used the back wall of the stage to represent the two rooms in the house most of the scenes were done, and used gobos for the rest. IMG_0917
For the “fancier” room of the mansion I painted a larger more ornate bookshelf, put up a huge landscape painting (I trash picked!!) and projected a chandelier. For the less fancy room, depicted a s a classroom in the same house, I painted a smaller plain bookshelf with a globe, changed the painting to Queen Elizabeth, and got rid of the gobo chandelier.
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The scenes were extremely easy to change in that the 2′ x 4′ rolling dolly with the window flat on it just rolled across the stage to block the bookshelf of the scene not being done, and the painting just flipped over on a tie line hanger.
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Of course there was some furniture involved, but that was minimized to save space.
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I repurposed some benches that I had made for an earlier play, fancied them up a bit, and VIOLA we had not only places for lots of little kids to sit and act like they’re learning, but a place for them to be when they needed to be in levels.

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While it’s a bit hard to see in this image, we handled the exterior scenes by just projecting a skyline gobo onto the main curtain. Once again, “building” for this show was minimal due to the space saving measures taken in the design, and well as the fact that all the sets used were right out of a saved collection previously built sets pieces that were just painted over to match the design of the show. What was added to the collection for this show was the chandelier gobo. It was placed in a light fixture that is kind of hard to reach, and stays safely stowed there to this date. It makes an occasional impromptu appearance when the lighting tech people aren’t paying attention. The scene painted on the wall remains there to this date as well, and actually appears in the next show on deck!! In my next post I’ll be revisiting foam core for the making of grave stones, and how I got a Fall production of Scrooge on the stage. Thanks for stopping by.

Melty Plastic

By Charles T. Jackson

Now that we’ve discussed how to make a plaster cast, and all the parts required for a vacuum form table, the last element of the puzzle is the heating of the plastic and the “pull”. Like I mentioned in my last post, I tried my grill first as a heat source, and it did work, it just didn’t heat the plastic enough to get a “full pull”, meaning that I wasn’t able to get the plastic to pull all the way down to the table surface and capture all the details of the skull cast that I was using.

Vacuum Form Process
All of the successful home vacuum forming  videos that I saw on YouTube brought their hot media holders right out of their oven to the vacuum form table. I placed four ceramic mugs at the outer edges of the upper rack to keep the media holder up away from the metal rack, and placed my media holder on the mugs, making sure that they were as far out of the way of the plastic as possible. I then set the oven to broil which produces heat in the range of 450-500 degrees. In a surprisingly short period of time, I could see ripples forming in the plastic, and then the starting of the expected “sag”. When the plastic sagged to a point that I thought it was about to go molten in my wife’s new oven, with proper safety gear on, I started the shop vac, removed the media holder, positioned it over the cast, and pushed it down onto the table until I’d made a good seal.

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In this particular picture, I have the old media holder, and a small Stinger vacuum in use, and neither proved all that helpful. There might have been enough suction if there had been a better seal, but I’ll never know because I made the new media holder, and not wanting to take any chances I powered up to the largest shop vac that I had. With the new media frame and the full scale shop vac I was able to capture all of the detail of not only the plaster cast on the table, but many of the exposed holes in the table itself. Fortunately I had seen a video that indicated that powdering your cast with standard baby powder makes it easier to get the cast out of the plastic. You also have to be careful not to try and pull anything that has deep undercuts, as it will very likely get locked into the plastic and stop your reproduction operation in it’s tracks. Learning how to do this was quite a trip. You see a lot of people try it in different ways, and have differing degrees of success. The common theme in all of the videos, like from negative experiences, is that you have to be very careful not to get burnt while engaged in the craziness that is involved in getting the softened plastic from the oven to the vacuum table. Commons sense, and some oven mitts really go a long way!! The next step of course is cutting the piece out of the plastic. I had initially tried using metal sheers for that, but it was nearly impossible. At the bad saw, the came out of the plastic very easily. In my next post, I’ll cover a setting solution that allowed stage room for massive numbers of kids in our Summer Youth Theatre production of “Little Princess”. Thanks for stopping by!!